Stephen Dixon, Author . Melville House $22.95 (220p) ISBN 978-0-9749609-2-0

In this deeply empathic novel, avant-garde veteran Dixon follows the lives of two writers from the time they meet as young men until late middle age. Neither Irv nor Leonard has achieved any great fame, and though there's a good deal of writerly chatter, it's really background music to the story of the daily struggles of two aging men and their families. Their lives are tragic, but not dramatically so—Leonard slowly fades into Lyme disease–induced dementia while Irv is busy caring for his crippled wife. What makes this book so good is Dixon's ability to invent characters just average enough that readers can identify with the banality of their pain. Typical of Dixon's work, the book is not divided into chapters, and the paragraphs stretch for many pages, often beginning with phrases like "About a year later" or "Before that," which account for very large or very small shifts in time. The last chronological events are revealed early on, and the gaps are filled in through letters, phone calls and meetings, which somewhat confusingly skip through the years. But like a hip Saul Bellow, Dixon seems to cover every facet of aging in America, from the waning of sexual vitality to the vulgarity of watching friends deteriorate and die in old age, all rendered with generous compassion for the suffering of mostly average people. (Oct. 15)

Forecast: Writer's writer Dixon (he's a favorite of Jonathan Franzen) has yet to attract a broader readership. This is one of his more accessible works, though the gloomy subject matter may be a hurdle for some.

Reviewed on: 10/11/2004
Release date: 10/01/2004
Genre: Fiction
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